July 14, 2003
ERP KIM Newsletter 14-07-03
After four years as refugees the first Serb returnees come back to their devastated homes with the firm determination to restore the life of the devastated village
(Photo: Emotional moment upon
exiting bus - Returnees carry icon of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, their
new Patron Saints)
The returnees, who exited the bus carrying an icon of St. Cosmas and Damian, the religious feast celebrated today, were served with traditional bread and salt, followed by a formal thanskgiving to God served before the improvised camp where they will be housed. After the service the returnees were welcomed on behalf of Bishop Artemije, the clergy and monks of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren by Fr. Sava (Janjic):
"This is the day we have all waited for for so long, the day when you are once more returning to your homes to again build your houses out of ashes and rubble, and restore the life of Belo Polje," said Fr. Sava, who thanked God as well as all the people who helped in making the return possible. Fr. Sava expressed special thanks to the commander of Italian KFOR troops in Pec, Colonel Iubini, who made a personal effort to make the return possible. He also appealed to UNMIK and UNHCR to double their efforts to ensure these returnees succeeded in staying and restoring their destroyed homes.
After liturgy and homily the returnees were served lunch prepared by the nuns of the sisterhood of the Pec Patriarchate. KFOR has provided food supplies for the next week as well as fuel to power the electrical generator. Visoki Decani Monastery also sent food.
On behalf of Coordinating Center head Nebojsa Covic Ljiljana Belos welcomed the returnees and informed them that during the next few days the Coordinating Center would provide a refrigerator, a stove, pots for preparing food, as well as other necessities. The Coordinating Center also plans to provide long-term assistance for the restoration of the destroyed homes.
The returnees thanked all those who welcomed them and who assisted in making the first organized return to the municipality of Pec possible. Despite the almost complete devastation of their village, the returnees are filled with great enthusiasm and a firm determination to restore their homes and bring their families in the near future.
The village of Belo Polje is located in the southern outskirts of Pec. The biggest Serb village in the Pec region, it is mentioned for the first time in the Decani Charter of the Holy King Stefan Uros III of Decani in 1327 as a part of the church estate. After the end of the armed conflict in 1999 and the treacherous murder of five Serb villagers, the entire Serb population of the village was forced to leave their homes despite the presence of KFOR. Albanian extremists then systematically looted and set fire to all 280 Serb homes. Since then the roads and yards have been covered with garbage and debris brought from nearby Pec. All the fruit orchards in the village were cut down, and the water and electrical infrastructure was destroyed. By a miracle of God only the Church of the Most Holy Mother of God built in 1868 survived the complete destruction; however, extremists looted it and partially burned the interior. The village cemetery, which stretches around the church and is adjacent to the city Orthodox cemetery in Pec, has been largely desecrated. Dozens of tombstones have been toppled or completely broken.
Returnees to the village of Belo Polje will be protected by members of Italian KFOR who have a newly built base nearby called "Villaggio Italia" (Italian village).
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